There is a common rally cry right now amongst local businesses to convince customers to spend their money locally, rather than spending in a national chain store, or online. Movements such as the 3/50 project and “Think. Shop. Buy. Local” all point out that spending money in local businesses will improve your local economy. As a business owner that has both a local bricks and mortar retail hobby shop, and a large online retail hobby shop, I know what it takes to run both a local business and an online business.

The problem I see with the ‘Buy Local’ campaigns is that they generally leave out some important issues. Simply spending your money on a local business JUST because they are local, does not make any sense. Not EVERY business deserves your dollars, especially when those local businesses don’t provide good customer service or after sales support. One of the common misconceptions out there amongst small bricks and mortar shops is that buying online is an impersonal experience, and online stores can never provide the same level of customer service as a local small business. Nothing can be further from the truth! Modern online businesses have highly trained customer service representatives to take care of their customers via phone, email or live chat. More importantly, online businesses know that after sales service and customer support are critical to remain competitive, because customers simply won’t come back and shop with you again if you don’t treat them right. There are plenty of other businesses out there for them to spend their money with.

So the core point I want to make is that if a local business wants customers to spend their money with them, they need to understand that they HAVE to start providing a high level of customer service and after sales support. This should not be something new, as local businesses have always had to do this, but before the internet the local businesses had a more captive market as customers did not have much else in the way of options, especially in smaller towns such as Chico where I currently live. With the advent of the internet, the local business now has to contend with a whole new range of online businesses that are competing in their own back yard. This is similar to small businesses lining the streets in a highly competitive shopping district (such as down Bridge Road in Melbourne, Australia). With so many businesses all selling the same products in close proximity, if they DON’T learn how to treat their customers right the store next door is going to steal their sales, and they will go out of business. This is effectively what is happening now with local businesses as the online business is the new business that just moved in next door.

There is a good article from Carol Tice on discussing what makes shoppers buy local. In this article she says:

Personal service. I have yet to talk to a small business owner who thinks they don’t have great customer service. But customers tell another story. On review sites and local forums, the fangs come out about rudeness, sloppy follow-up, or a just-don’t-care attitude.

Personal service, or just plain good customer service is critical for a business to retain customers whether they are local or online. But my experience with many local businesses in recent years (and alas some online ones), is that sometimes customer service seems to be an afterthought and something the business owner would prefer not to do. Once the sale is done, it is done. If the customer has an issue, they explain why they cannot help you and send you on your way. The end result is that single sale was saved, but the business just lost that customer and they likely won’t ever come back. Worse, if they are really upset they may tell all their friends via Facebook or Twitter about their experience, and THEY then won’t spend their money with that business.

So it is pretty clear that if any local business wants customers to spend their money with their business, they need to EARN that business. They should not ever simply EXPECT that business because they happen to be local.

19 Responses to “Why you should NOT Shop Local!”

  1. Wes Keener says:

    To sum this up a business has to have good customer service. Common sense for the most part. I hate Lowes with a passion.. but i cant walk into, regardless of their level of service, and pick up a bucket of paint on the weekend to finish a project. Amain is in a unique position in Chico of having both ends covered. I would expect maintaining good customer service levels for a small business like Amain would be a lot easier than if you had hundreds of stores scattered across the country, or employed hundreds of people. So have you guys pretty much stopped referring customers to the manufacturer when there is a problem with a part? Customer service would hinge on this many times as people dont want to have to contact a manufacturer when they spent all their money at Amain.

  2. Wes Keener says:

    Another note, as someone who buys most things online, i am constantly surprised how many local people are against buying online. I dont know where the apprehension comes from whether it be lack/fear of technology but i am always telling people of better deals online and they dont want to hear it. Only a small group of people head the advice and go for the online product. Perhaps its just our local area. I have sent many people to Amain brick and mortar store.

  3. Larry Tom says:

    Mr Bennett
    Have you thought of franchising amain? If so I would be very interested in opening one in the Phoenix area.

  4. I am that customer that spent thousands at a local HS & thought it was the right thing to do.They we rude & very arogant & hard to deal with .I needed a part & they had to order it one day.When I picked it up I was hit with 18.00 shipping charge??Then I saw the shipper & he had stocked his shelf with this order also!!& I paid ALL THE SHIPPING! About a week later they did the same thing to a friend.We both stopped & looked for a better way to go & that is A MAIN HOBBIES! I get emails checking on my orders & thankyous for my busisnes.I could not be more happy with my new HS A MAIN.Thank you all.& I also am with Larry Tom as far as opening a store in southern Michigan As I am surounded by RC tracks!

  5. Johnny.L says:

    Mr Bennett, I’m your custom since May 2012 and already spend thousands dollars since than and i thought AMainhobbies is the best online hobby shop to shop with.. But I have to tell you I had a very bad experience for my recent order.. I just can’t believe I will receive two defected receiver that came with Airtronics MT4 transmitter..The worst things is you guys given me a hard time for refund and changed my instruction on my RMA form, I had marked down return to original payment method (credit back to my credit card).. But they just ignore it and ship me another one. Can I ask you what is your refund policy again with defected product and Completely unsatisfied customer?

    • Johnny, I hope by now your order issue has been corrected. I know our CS department gave you a full refund even though we could find oohing wrong with the items you purchased. I am sorry you had a bad experience.

  6. Augie Walker says:

    You make some valid points, but at the end of the day when you do have a good local shop and they also have a world-class track, we only have ourselves to blame if they go belly up.

    I had about $125 in my cart for items to purchase from a-main when I saw your CEO blog and clicked on it. Thanks for the wake up call to take my shopping list to my LHS to get me the parts.

    • Augie, the core point of the article is that a business needs to be, first and foremost, a good business. If your LHS has what you need and provides you with the service you expect, then by all means spend money with them. But don’t prop them up just because they are local but don’t treat their customers properly. There are many LHS that do very well, because they are run well. Plain and simple.

      • Augie Walker says:

        I reread my comment and didn’t mean to sound like I was disagreeing with your point. I meant to say in this particular instance that it made me think that I do have a good LHS and should support them when it made sense.

        A Main Hobbies is great, and I will shop here when it makes sense as well.

  7. Jerry Molnar says:

    Hi Kendall ,,, I’ve lived in Chico for about 25yrs now, I’m a looooong time RC airplane hobbyist . Thank you for that very insightful article,,, I’ve always believed in supporting local business , but only if they’ve EARNED my business,,, not JUST because they are local as you said. I’ve watched your company grow from the very beginning , saw your little store on mangrove and frequented it many many times and bought thousands in products there,,, now I’m happy to see you’ve grown again and have the newer bigger store. But here’s a point I Wana bring up in this whole local vs online debate,,, why do we HAVE to exclusively shop ONLY local or online???? I LOVE your guys customer support and try to buy whatever I can from you,,,,BUT,,,,, sometimes if you don’t have what I need I will go to another hobby retailer.the world of RC planes is HUGE with alot of specialty and small products, and you guys just mainly carry the mainstream stuff ( not that that’s bad) you are in aunique position I think having a large online presence AND having a superior brick and mortor store. I wish MUCH continued success in the future!!!! And will be hanging out at your newer and bigger retail location as well. As far as I’m concerned,, as long as you keep operating like you have been,, you have my business for LIFE!!!!
    I’ve been to many many many hobby stores in my life, and overall I think yours is one of the best I’ve been to!!!! Even if you don’t have ALL the RC plane stuff I might want. As one of the other commenters above said, maybe you should consider franchising???? Keep up the good work, I’m thankful your here in Chico. And as for the keep it local hard core fanatics,,, look at ALL the local jobs you have created here. I think for a hard working dedicated business there is no worries about online or out of town competition. As you said if you run a good business with good customer service people will buy there

    Jerry Molnar

  8. Mark Hackett says:

    Hi Kendall, I have recently opened a hobby store and wonder if you would consider helping me out. I opened this store because of exactly what you talk about in this post…customer service and support. In my area we have only two Hobby Towns, neither of which seem to care much about the customer, and neither of which offer a good selection for the avid hobbyist. Being an avid RC Junky myself, spending thousands of dollars a year, I was encouraged to take on this responsibility by my fellow RC enthusiasts at both our flying field and local track. I decided to take on this challenge to give our locality a better option when it comes to RC, but I have met difficulty trying to compete with online retailers like yourself. I am committed to bringing the level of support that you are talking about, not just because I am a store owner, but because I am first an hobby enthusiast and a customer! I want to do my locality justice, and fill the void that they have felt with only two Hobby Towns to choose from. Can you help me to achieve competitive pricing and some purchasing power through you?

    • Hi Mark,

      One thing for sure is it is difficult to compete on price with on-line retailers, and believe it or not we are not the cheapest online store either. For a bricks and mortar retailer it is important to understand that your profit comes from parts and accessories, not kit sales. So if you have people running particular cars in your area, make sure you cater to their needs and stock the parts they use or get them quickly if they need them. And for kits, try to sell higher but add some value, like throw in some service etc for new customers.

      As for being able to sell to other hobby stores, we have a small distribution web site you can buy from as a retail hobby shop, but it is only for a small select amount of brands. We are not allowed to resell products from the regular distributors (such as Horizon or Great Planes products) due to the reseller agreements we have with them. We can only sell those products to consumers, and are not allowed to resell to other shops.

  9. Carlos says:

    Hi Kendall. I’m Carlos from Mexico. I Just want to congratulation for your nice work. The main Hobbies site is very nice, I buy many products. I will like yo get some recomendations from You about my web site. Thanks

  10. Cody Horner says:

    First off, nice start to your blog. Some good posts here in general. I’m a developer, computer guy, RC lover and business owner myself. I’d love to switch over my love of code towards setting up a successful shop and track; very cool!

    Secondly, I agree with what you’re saying for sure. The problem is -in specific with the RC industry- that most local businesses not only complain about consumers being able to find cheaper prices online, but they also feel like they aren’t obtaining fair pricing from distributors in some cases. That’s another topic though entirely I’m sure. So all they have left in reality is customer service. There’s another issue as well though I find, which brings me to the point…

    When local shops don’t carry what hobbyists are looking for, it sort of hampers their ability to provide what would be considered “good customer service” these days. You can be nice and friendly all you want, but when a store constantly says “we don’t have that but we can try and order it for you”, I walk out and buy everything online. Or, sometimes they stock only higher-moving items that are at lower price points and neglect the guys that don’t mind spending several thousand a year on racing in the area. Which is a big mistake in my opinion, as you want to cater to these kind of customers who are more likely to spread word and know others who will drop the same amounts of cash while enjoying the hobby.

    I think the biggest mistake local hobby shops are making these days is to operate exactly as they maybe always had been…. like a LOCAL shop, and not expanding to provide online ordering as well. When I see a local hobby shop that doesn’t even have a decent website, I know they will eventually crumble unless their customer service and ability to stock is so good that it outweighs it completely… which is pretty rare, especially when you consistently visit a store and they have nothing you want in stock.

    Just my 2 cents

  11. Bill Anderson says:

    I have spent hundreds if not pushing thousands at A-MAIN and have always been pleased with their service. One feature I do like is the FREE shipping on items over $25 , but unfortunately this doesn’t apply to larger items such as complete kits like RC trucks etc. For bigger items I go to TOWER Hobbies because they offer this service and provide deeper discounts on larger items. You join their club for $10 and you get this service. If your purchase exceeds $400 you get $65 off, whereas A-MAIN only offers $25 off and then you pay for shipping, so the shipping cuts into your savings Both sites have their perks, but one site is good for one thing while the other for something else. So I shop at both. My big purchases I buy at TOWER Hobbies $500 and above and my small ones below $100 I buy @ AMAIN. I’m happy with the service I get from both sites. I rate them both a 10 but they are both in a different class from another.

  12. Bill Anderson says:

    One other thing I wanted to mention about TOWER is the price that is listed is the price you pay. I bought a SLAYER PRO for $389. That was the price after the discount and that was the price I paid after it shipped. It included shipping and handling fees!!

  13. Robbie Allen says:

    Any LHS that has survived has not done so by using “local” entitlement. We’ve done it by selling on value, commitment to customers, and live one-on-one real time service. Something that no matter how you want to present it, you’ll never be able to do online.

    I’ve read your return policy (we buy from Swift), it could take weeks for a customer to get a defective product replaced. We can do it in a minute or two. We’re selling relatively complex little machines and there is no way a call center can out perform a live service experience.

    Interesting to see you trying to figure out a way to sell value-add services with products now that you (and other large online retailers, the manufacturers and China) have pounded all the profit out of the products. Must be getting expensive having to give away 10% off coupons and free shipping to keep your customers from going elsewhere.

    You’ve built a great company, but the LHS is essential to the hobby and people need us (especially the noobs). Why in the world would you be telling people to not buy from a LHS when you own one and know what a valuable service we provide?

    • Hi Robbie,

      If your LHS is surviving, then I applaud you. It means you are doing what I wrote the article about; you are providing good value to your customers and they are shopping with you because you are running a good business not because you are entitled to their business. That was after all the entire point of my article, and it sounds like your business is proof that I am right :)

      There are certainly things that a LHS can do better than an online shop, and focusing on those is the way that those stores can do better going forward. Believe it or not we actually believe in the LHS. Stay tuned to our future plans as you may well be surprised :)

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